An interest in fantasy. It’s hard to ‘unpack’ because fantasy is a huge multi-faceted genre and means different things to different people. It is often assumed to include sci fi and although I also like sci fi I don’t find the two similar at all.
It is often thought to include the paranormal: witches, ghosts, shiftes, vampires etc. operating in the mundane world. There are aspects of that kind of fantasy that really appeal to me. Examples of shows and books I have enjoyed include Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series (a changeling private eye also works for the faerie courts), Grimm ( a traditional grimm or hunter is a police officer dealing with cases that resemble fairy tales and often have were-creatures as the criminals), A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (romance between a vampire and a witch that includes time travel), Laurell Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series ( a fairy princess tries to settle in the modern world, helped and hampered by her lovers, who are all fae), Labyrinth (where a child needs to be rescued from the goblin king after a wish gone wrong) and Eli Easton’s How to Howl at the Moon series (dog shifters in the fictional town of Mad Creek). There are more but I’m sure you get the idea. In this type of fantasy I prefer to have at least one or two paranormal characters. I am less keen on series like Gabaldon’s Outlander books where the only fantasy element is the time travel. I love werewolves (and other shifters), particularly when they are involved in police work or romnce or both. I like witches, especially when humour is the focus. I adore unicorns. I am less keen on vampires and ghosts but couldn’t really tell you why unless it’s because they seem to have an unfair advantage when interracting with the mundane world. I think this interaction is at the core of my liking for books and shows like this. My brain asks things like: what if one of the police partners turned out to be actually a werewolf and could follow the scent of the murderer? (That’s one of the delights of fanfiction that takes known characters down a fantasy rabbit hole and gives them magical attributes.) The best of these ‘urban fantasies’ not only describes our own world in detail but also builds equally intricate fantasy worlds that exist in tandem, inhabited by fae, by shifter packs, by vampire families. I think a childhood favourite, George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblins falls into this genre, as does Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market although in this tale I have to say my interest is mainly in the various styles of illustration. I never enjoyed Alice in Wonderland but I loved the Pooh books. I think even at an early age I wanted to enter another world, one with magic of one kind or another, without an omniscient narrator telling me what to think. In Alice, I felt there were too many moral judgements.
Then there are the fantasy worlds that have no real connection to our own. My all time favourite has to Lord of the Rings with its saga of Middle Earth, but I am rarely as thrilled by the other high fantasy ‘quests’ that publishers assure us will appeal to lovers of Tolkien. Some that are less well known but equally loved by those like me who have found them are series like Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Felicia Davin’s The Gardener’s Handbook. The only TV shows I can think of in this category are Carnival Row (a Victorian-style society which treats fae from its conquered colonies badly) and The Dark Crystal, both Hensen’s original film and the recent ‘prequel’ series. I suppose I’d include the film versions of Pratchett’s Discworld, though not the Harry Potter films which belong in the urban fantasy genre. These pure fantasy books and shows create complete and complex worlds with huge histories and multiple characters. Here I think my liking stems from being able to view a totally different society and then return to my own with some new perspectives. In this one respect it is similar to my love of sci fi. I never want the creators to insist on a particular viewpoint or morality; I do want to ‘watch’ the behaviour of intelligent beings unconstrained by the limits of my own reality. I am more than capable of reaching my own conclusions.
I also, of course, simply like magical beings. I have always been intrigued by folk tales, adored Arthurian legend, and wanted there to be ‘more’ out there while at the same time not believing in it in the least. I don’t want my fairies twee, like Tinkerbell in Peter Pan (I never liked the book or the play) and I am not convinced by Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies though I learnt a lot of botany from her books. Fairies need to be capable of ‘passing’ as human, even in other worlds though I admit to liking stories like The Borrowers and The Carpet People. I want my werewolves to be complicated people rather than vicious beasts. I like seeing the results of other people’s wild imaginings, and I also love fantasy art. For instance I like the drawings of Arthur Rackham, and the modern paintings of Amy Brown and others.
I write fantasy. My own work falls into both ‘urban fantasy’ and ‘other world’ fantasy in different stories. Naturally, I read,.watch and enjoy a lot in what I think of as ‘my’ genre. Some writers may have influenced me though I think their main contribution has been to give me the confidence to write what I enjoy and share the results with others.
The photograph is of a metal unicorn that graces the grounds of a fascinating forge outside Leatherhead just south of London.